DID YOU READ

2007: The Five Best Directorial Debuts

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By Nick Schager

IFC News

[Photo: “Persepolis,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2007]

Amidst all the new features from established auteurs, it would be easy to overlook the fact that 2007 was a banner year for debuts. In an effort to counteract any potential disregard, here are five films from six first-time helmers who, on the evidence of these maiden productions, will likely be heard from again very soon.

Persepolis

Directed by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi

Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel series “Persepolis” has been rightly acclaimed for its blend of humor, pathos, and social commentary, yet its stark black-and-white visual style hardly seemed a natural fit for the big-screen. Any concerns about lost-in-translation problems, however, disappeared from the opening frames of Satrapi’s animated gem (co-directed by Vincent Paronnaud), which bursts with vibrant, prickly, poignant life. Satrapi’s film isn’t just a faithful adaptation but an energized improvement of its source material, lending the author’s personal saga of oppression and exile an aesthetic fluidity and vitality that few animated efforts, of this year or any other, can match.

Away From Her

Directed by Sarah Polley

An adaptation of an Alice Munro short story about a long-married couple torn apart by Alzheimer’s, “Away From Her” would be a remarkable feature from a filmmaker of any age. The fact that it was authored by 28-year-old actress-turned-director Sarah Polley, though, makes its success that much more stunning. It’s a tale marked by a gentle touch and a humanistic interest in the frustration, pain, loneliness and resilient optimism that accompanies growing old. And its deeply felt sensitivity extends to the treatment of its magnificent leads Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie, whose performances are given room to breathe and blossom by Polley’s composed camerawork.

The Band’s Visit

Directed by Eran Kolirin

On its face, Eran Kolirin’s wry dramedy appears poised for typical culture-clash mushiness. What it ultimately delivers, however, is an affecting dose of subtle, heartfelt sweetness. An Egyptian police band’s accidental arrival in an isolated Israeli village is the premise for this sly investigation of communication barriers, with the unexpected meeting between Egyptians and Israelis standing as an obvious allegory for current Middle East relations. Yet the beauty of “The Band’s Visit” is that it never feels the need to overtly remark upon its larger concerns, or allow them to interfere with its moving portrait of lonely souls in desperate need of reciprocated kindness.

12:08 East of Bucharest

Directed by Corneliu Porumboiu

Corneliu Porumboiu’s “12:08 East of Bucharest” is more overtly comedic than last year’s heralded Romanian import “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” but that’s not to say it’s any less profound a work. Revolving around a TV talk show host’s attempt to produce a program about whether the 1989 revolution that expelled Ceausescu from power occurred in his rural town, the film commences with dry joviality and slowly develops into a piercing — and piercingly funny — meditation on the impossibility of establishing concrete truths. Its elegant bookending shots of streetlights going on and off (visual representations of spreading politicization) are textbook examples of understated symbolism done right.

King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

Directed by Seth Gordon

This rollicking cinematic depiction of videogame culture came courtesy of documentarian Seth Gordon, who considers his chosen social environment with sincere thoughtfulness free of patronizing mockery. Gordon’s non-fiction crowd-pleaser thrives partly because of its thrilling underdog narrative involving the quest by family man Steve Wiebe to topple arcade game legend Billy Mitchell’s record Donkey Kong score. Brimming with good guys, bad guys and colorful peripheral figures, it’s a true-life tale fit for a Hollywood film. Ultimately, though, its resonance comes less from its twists and turns than from the director’s focus on the emotional and psychological forces compelling his subjects to compete.

[Additional photos: “Persepolis,” Sony Pictures Classics; “Away From Her,” Lionsgate; “The Band’s Visit,” Sony Pictures Classics; “12:08 East of Bucharest,” Tartan; “King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters,” Picturehouse]

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.